At work we often share and forward jokes to the whole group. It’s an accepted practice and one that we all enjoy. Recently someone forwarded a joke where the punchline was basically implying that someone is bullied and murdered because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. I know the person who sent it didn’t see it that way or it would never have gone out. He’s got many gay friends (though I doubt he has any openly transgender friends). I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to embarrass him or come across as holier-than-thou or Miss Politically Correct. And I don’t want to take myself off the joke list because I usually enjoy the humor.
A.I’m so glad you brought this us because it’s an issue that more and more people are facing these days. While personal and social issues around sexual orientation and gender identity have been around forever, it’s only fairly recently that the tide has turned on public acceptance and inclusion. And while overall in this country, discrimination and cruelty on the basis of those things is diminishing rapidly, language and humor have yet to catch up. Only a short time ago, jokes like the one you describe would have been deemed funny by a lot of people in the same way that a few decades ago, jokes about lynching an African-American were thought to be acceptable by many. Values have evolved relatively quickly in the last few years, and some people haven’t quite made the connection between values and language or humor. So help your co-worker. Let him know – privately – that you need to bring up a delicate issue. Tell him that you were uncomfortable with the joke he sent. Break it down for him, as you did for me, what the punchline really implies. Assure him that you know it was not his intent to spread intolerance, but that you thought he’d like to know how it came across to you. Let him know that in these changing times, we all need to help each other, and that you would want him to do the same for you.